It Takes a Village to Raise a Bilingual Child
It’s common knowledge that raising kids is HARD WORK. Parents who try to do it all on their own quickly become overwhelmed and stressed out. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with a supportive community. All of this is amplified even more when you are raising a bilingual child, especially if you live outside the target language community.
The most important advice you can hear about raising any child and especially bilingual children is this: It Takes a Village!
Get out there and surround yourself with like-minded and/or bilingual parents, and create authentic opportunities for your children to develop those language skills.
Here are my top tips for how to accomplish this:
1. Make Online Connections.
Facebook groups are kind of like online dating sites for moms…except instead of love connections, we’re hunting for advice, commiseration, and friendship. Motherhood can be isolating, especially in the early newborn days or when you’re an expat living abroad. Find an online community where you can connect to others. Local groups often host meet-ups or playdates. Don’t see one that fits your needs? Create one! Reach out to other Spanish-speaking moms living in France, for example, and start building connections to bilingual parents living close by.
Here four international Facebook groups that have been of great help to me, supporting me with advice on how to raise bilingual or multilingual kids through personal experiences:
2. Attend Community Events.
Local libraries or bookstores are often great places to make connections. Many, especially in larger cities, will even host bilingual storytimes or other events that promote multiculturalism.
If you live abroad check in with your embassy, they usually have information about all the local events in your home language. Attend playgroups in your target language, if one does not exist, start a group. Many parents for sure will love to help if they see the benefit of language learning for their children.
3. Get Political.
Well…sort of. Enlist the help of local city services or city officials to get a bilingual group up and running. When my children were young, we lived in Germany. A group of Spanish-speaking mothers living in Frankfurt enlisted the help of the local mayor’s office to start a bilingual Kindergarten. It still exists today, continuing to serve bilingual families in Frankfurt. It never hurts to ask for help. The worst-case? You are told “no.” Best case? You are able to fulfill a need within your community.
4. Reach Out to Local Schools.
Another excellent community resource is the local school or university system. Many schools have visiting faculty or students from other countries. You could suggest hosting visiting students, a casual meet-up, conversation club, or a game night among both native speakers and those who wish to practice the target language. Chances are, any visiting students or faculty are a bit homesick and would love to chatter away in their native tongue.
5. Video Chats.
Set up weekly video calls with family members who speak the target language. Not only will you be maintaining important family ties, but your children will also be able to develop relationships and language skills at the same time. Make sure to instruct your family to hold the conversations in your target language from the start.
6. Hire a Nanny or Au Pair
A Nanny or Au Pair, who speaks the language. If this is within the scope of possibility for your family, this can be an excellent way to provide language opportunities for your children. This is also a great option for parents who wish to raise a bilingual child but who do not speak a second language themselves.
7. Check-out online reading aloud videos.
I have found many videos in Spanish and English and here some links, but I am sure these exist in many other languages. These are especially useful if you are not fluent in the language you want your kids to learn.
Check out more resources about free online book read-alouds in many more languages. We would love to hear if you have found any favorites of your own.
Bottom line? It takes hard work, community, and connection to raise a bilingual child. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and forge paths where you see the need. You are your child’s best advocate!
I’d love to hear your experience: share your tips for finding a bilingual community for your family. What has worked for you? Leave a comment on the blog, or come visit us at Facebook or Instagram to join the conversation.
Gabriela Schultze-Rhonhof Simmons (I know it is looooong!!) Co-Founder of TimTimTom Books, mother of two trilingual, now teenage kids. Gaby is trilingual herself and hopes to empower kids to love reading and languages by finding themselves in books that they can really relate to. All kids should have the opportunity of finding themselves in a book and enjoy reading. Send me a message on email@example.com, I am always happy to answer questions related to helping children to enjoy reading and raising bilingual kids.
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You can customize the name and look of the child and choose any combination of two out of ten available languages.
(Some available language combinations: English-Spanish, English-German, English-Russian, English-Chinese, English-Portuguese, English-Italian, English-Dutch, English-French, French-German, Russian-German, Spanish-German.)
The books are now also available in one language
TimTimTom – Reading in Two Languages is Double the Fun